The Art of Clouds
Students use an identification guide to identify clouds in the sky and in landscape paintings then make their own art to depict cloud types.
Students learn to notice and describe clouds in the atmosphere in order to identify cloud types.
- Students identify clouds outside using an identification guide.
- Students explore how artists depicted clouds in landscape art.
- Students identify cloud types depicted in works of art
- Students create their own art to depict cloud types.
- Paint color samples (including blues, whites, red/pink, greens, purple, grey)
- A cloud identification guide for each student (or student pair) like one of these:
- A cloudy day
- The Art of Clouds presentation
- Art supplies (paint, colored pencils, colored chalks, paper)
Download the Art of Clouds presentation (either the PDF or PowerPoint version) and prepare to project it for students. Or upload the file to student computers or tablets.
Check the weather forecast for the week ahead to make sure clouds are likely in your location during the day when you plan to do these activities with students.
- Look at the sky on a cloudy day. Ask students to use adjectives to describe the clouds they see. How much of the sky is covered with clouds? Are the clouds small or large?
- Provide Cloud Viewers or cloud identification guides for each student or student pair. Orient the students to the identification guide. Practice identifying a cloud together as a group. Then challenge students to identify clouds on their own.
- Note: cloud identification can be challenging. Many primary level teachers focus on recognition of just three cloud shapes (cumulus, stratus, and cirrus) in order to keep things simple while students initially learn about cloud types. If you wish to simplify with these categories, you will need to adjust the presentation in Activity 1 and use a simplified cloud identification guide.
- Tell students that, for this lesson, they will explore how artists depict clouds in paintings. They will make careful observations and hone their cloud identification skills by looking at clouds in art.
Activity 1 (inside)
- Run through several (or all!) paintings in The Art of Clouds presentation. Have students use their cloud viewer or cloud identification guide to help identify the cloud types in a piece of art, record their answer, and then flip to the next slide which gives the answer.
- For each painting, ask students to notice what the weather looks like, the colors that the artist used to paint the clouds, and the types of brushstrokes. Prompt students to use adjectives to describe what the clouds look like.
Activity 2 (outside)
- Exploring the colors of clouds: Hand out paint color samples to the students and ask them to find colors that are the colors of the clouds. Compare student colors. Ask the group: Are all clouds white? Are all clouds the same colors?
- Distribute art materials and allow students to create the clouds they see in the sky. Remind students to look at the shape of the clouds, the colors of the clouds, and their approximate height in the sky. Have students use their identification guides to identify the clouds they depict.
- If possible, repeat this outdoor part of the activity on several days when the variety of clouds in the sky is different. Compare student cloud paintings from days with different weather. Discuss how students conveyed changes in weather through color and shape of the clouds that they drew.
About the Art
The works of art in The Art of Clouds interactive presentation are mainly 19th Century landscape paintings from Europe and North America. Paintings were selected that feature clouds prominently and that represent a variety of cloud types. There are, of course, many other paintings (as well as other forms of art) that depict clouds. If time allows, you may choose to allow students, especially those in upper grades, to research other landscape paintings that feature clouds.
Dutch artists made some of the first landscape paintings that depicted the natural world without fantasy and mythological or religious ties. By the 18th Century, natural landscape painting was becoming more popular and common in England, France, and Italy. In the 19th Century, metal tubes were invented that kept paints from drying out and allowed artists to make paintings outdoors in the landscape rather than in a studio. This led to the Realism movement in which the landscape was depicted as accurately as possible. And it eventually led to the Impressionist movement in which artists sought to capture the subtleties of light and mood. A group of new American landscape painters also became well known in the 19th Century. Today landscape painting is very popular and very diverse. Landscapes are made in a variety of media and with a variety of artistic styles.
About Clouds and Cloud Identification
Clouds are made of tiny water droplets or ice crystals that are suspended in the atmosphere. Clouds form when pressure decreases and water vapor in the atmosphere condenses on little particles of dust called condensation nuclei.
There are a variety of different types of clouds. They are typically classified based on two criteria:
- Their shape:
- Puffy clouds with distinct edges
- Uniform and flat clouds
- Wispy and thin clouds
- Their altitude in the atmosphere:
- High-altitude (at the top of the troposphere)
When both of these criteria can be observed in paintings, the cloud can be identified. Visit the UCAR Center for Science Education Cloud Gallery for more information about the variety of cloud types.
Elementary GLOBE provides an in-depth exploration of cloud types through a storybook and hands-on activities appropriate for grades K-4.
The S'COOL Project involves students (ages 5-20+) in real science, making and reporting observations of clouds to assist in the validation of NASA's CERES satellite instruments.
- Observe clouds - a video of clouds on the move, forming, moving, and changing shape
- Cloud Photos at the UCAR Digital Image Library
- Cloud Spotting Guide from the Met Office
- Clouds and Weather video from PBS Learning Media
- NOAA Head in the Clouds
Activity developed by Lisa Gardiner of the UCAR Center for Science Education for NESTA in 2008 and revised for the UCAR Center for Science Education in 2013.